Raised on classical with a heart for heavy metal, violinis…


FARGO — In her 40-year career, violinist Rachel Barton Pine has played all kinds of music, from classical to folk, Celtic, rock, jazz and even heavy metal. Still, she’s always looking for something new.

The celebrated musician finds that this weekend when she makes her debut with the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra (FMSO) and plays Sylvie Bodorova’s “Concerto of the Flowers” for the first time.

“I’m always happy to play a work by a woman composer,” she says. “It’s very, very expressive.”

As the featured soloist, she’ll pair that work with Pablo Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy,” a piece she calls “a standard” and something she’s been performing since she was 13.

“It’s always a fan favorite,” she says.

She performed “Carmen Fantasy” recently with FMSO Music Director Christopher Zimmerman at his other gig at the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra in Virginia.

“It will be fun to hear something that is a favorite and a new discovery they will come to love,” Barton Pine says of the FMSO show. She adds that it will be extra enjoyable to play one piece by a female composer and another inspired by a female character.

Zimmerman says the two pieces complement each other. The “Carmen Fantasy” is “all virtuosic pyrotechnics,” he says.

The Bodorova is thrilling on the other end of the spectrum.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s quite subdued. Very lyrical,” he says.

The latter was one of the first numbers Zimmerman conducted with the FMSO when he tried out for the job in 2012. This time around he’s happy to introduce Barton Pine.

“She’s a fantastic player and a hell of a personality,” he says.

While the Bodorova is new to her, it fits the bill of what she’s looking for in a composition.

“I look for someone who is a master of their craft,” she says. “You want music that is interesting and touches the heart and emotions.”

Barton Pine knows first hand the extreme emotional highs and lows of life.

Growing up her family was poor and struggled to support her desire to study the violin. She recalls how her performance outfits were thrift store finds.

“There were times where it was, ‘How are we going to get groceries and pay for gas to get to lessons this week?’” she says. “It was touch and go. Our electricity and phone were often turned off.”

The lessons paid off, however and she made her first public performance at 7 and performed with the Chicago Symphony at age 10.

She had a chuckle with how the FMSO is promoting the concert.

“From poverty to prodigy, Rachel Barton Pine overcame incredible life challenges to become an internationally renowned soloist and passionate classical music advocate,” the organization states on its website, calling her “The Notorious RBP.”

She points out that her family lived in poverty as she was a prodigy, so there really wasn’t a transition, but understands the desire to hype up a show.

The FMSO has also posted a link to a story of Barton Pine surviving a gruesome injury in 1995.

She was leaving a Chicago-area train when the doors closed on her and the violin case over her shoulder, pinning the 20-year-old to the exterior of the train. She was dragged 366 feet and was ultimately pulled underneath the train, losing a leg and badly damaging the other. Two years later, she resumed her career.

Barton Pine doesn’t like to talk about the incident or its effects now, but acknowledges her life story generates interest.

“It’s unrelated to my art. I’d rather talk about music education rather than one’s private life,” she says. “But it’s an important story to tell. It gives hope to people coming from extraordinary circumstances.”

And “The Notorious RBP” moniker, a reference to late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s nickname? That came with the blessing of Bader Ginsberg, who was a major donor to the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation. Bader Ginsberg’s son James produced the violinist’s most recent album, “Dependent Arising” for his label, Cedille Records.

In 2001 she started the foundation which helps young artists and promotes the works of Black composers.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding. It’s exciting to be part of this work,” she says. “It’s gone from people dismissing the work to seeing what a wonderful, rich repertoire and treasure trove it is. It should have been part of this canon all along. We’re righting the ship.”

She’s also a fan of the young Black composer Quinn Mason, whose work, “Running” from his “Joyous Trilogy,” will open this weekend’s shows. Mason is expected to attend the concerts.

Her support for Black composers goes back decades. In 1997 she released the album, “Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries.” Twenty-one years later she released “Blues Dialogues: Music by Black Composers,” which featured classical works influenced by blues music.

She didn’t start the project out of a sense of inclusion or social justice, but rather wanting to share good music.

“Interestingly, it was really a question of loving the music. I was motivated by great, overlooked music,” she says. “I want to play more amazing music. The more great music the better.”

She says her foundation also helps young artists cover aspects that typical scholarships don’t, like replacing strings on the instrument or funding transportation to lessons.

The foundation has aided more than 100 students in that way.

She’s at the point in her career where composers are writing for her. In August she released the album “Dependent Arising,” which pairs heavy metal stylings with classical music like Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Violin Concerto No. 1.” The title track was written for her by Earl Maneein, who describes his work as, “the somewhat unlikely crossroads of Western classical music, heavy metal and hardcore punk.”

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to have two of my most favorite genres combined in a unique violin concerto,” she says.

Like many others, she discovered heavy metal as a teenager. Now 30 years later, her love of the genre is deeper than ever.

“We’re not talking about the cheesy stuff you heard on the radio,” she says. “We’re talking about extreme genres, from thrash and up. These genres of metal are very inspired by classical music.”

She also played in the Chicago-area metal band, Earthen Grave.

Just as she sees comparisons between classical music and heavy metal, she sees similarities between contemporary jazz and classical. She has collaborated with jazz pianist Billy Childs who composed the classical “Violin Concerto No. 2” for her.

“He has such a wonderful emotional feel,” she says.

Another composer she works closely with is her daughter, Sylvie Pine. Also a violinist, the 12-year-old has also taken to writing her own music. The two occasionally perform together.

“It’s a dream come true to perform double concertos with her,” Barton Pine says.

What: FM Symphony Masterworks concert

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23 and 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 24

Where: Festival Concert Hall on North Dakota State University campus; 1511 12th Ave. N.

Info: Tickets range from $14 to $50,


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